Bayonetta 3 it's a drumming, boisterous, cheeky game. It is an adrenaline-pumping journey that shines with many colors and facets, keeping the player glued to the controls of an experience that can be defined with a single, exhaustive, noun: PlatinumGames. It is inevitable to go to the point when a software house presents the third chapter of its most famous saga showing an extreme awareness of the quality of the two predecessors, without however lacking clarity in identifying what may be the changes to the formula necessary to reach a very larger and present a product more in line with the historical period.
With Bayonetta the software house generated by the dreamers of Capcom had given birth to a divergence in the “stylish” action genre created by Devil May Cry, perfectible in its most eccentric aspects but solid and satisfying like few productions of the time. Only four years later did they try to repeat the magic, with a second chapter more careful not to fall into design uncertainties but considered by many to be a bit simplified in its mechanics – perhaps to meet the Nintendo user? The doubt has always remained with me.
In shaping this new adventure of the witch of Umbra, PlatinumGames once again found itself at shuffle the cards on the table, putting at the helm Yusuke Miyata, a “rookie” director just as happened for the second chapter. A choice that perhaps is a direct consequence of the departure of Hashimoto, which took place in 2019 (today in Capcom following Street Fighter 6 as game designer/planner), and which launches a first clue about the possible turbulence who may have gone through the project in the 5 years between the announcement and its official release.
And the result is a title that tries to deviate from the derivative vision of Bayonetta 2, turning into an action that smells of adventure due to the numerous digressions in terms of gameplay, the introduction of new characters and the spectacularization of each situation to the detriment of a certain degree of narrative coherence and concreteness – not that in the past it was a plus point, but on this occasion the authorial reins seemed to me much more than loose.
Bayonetta 3, the meeting of different worlds
Located in an unspecified future with respect to the events that saw us reach the heights of Fimbulventr, to close a fascinating narrative loop between the first and second episode, the story of Bayonetta 3 begins unambiguously, throwing us into the middle of a new and unknown multidimensional threat. Not even the huge knowledge of Rodin is of help in the face of these enemies who do not belong to heaven or hell, but seem to have been created by man himself, and who respond to the name of homunculus.
The situation becomes even more complex when out of nowhere it appears Viola, a fiery and undisciplined girl who embodies the stereotype of the young rebel - sometimes resulting in a parody of herself - and who shows that she knows something more about what is happening in the world: according to her words, it is first necessary to find Professor Sigurd, a scientist who seems to have the knowledge to handle an enemy capable of moving between realities, and recovering in the meantime i Components of Chaos, equipped with the energy necessary to deal with the leader of the enemy faction, Singularity.
After collecting and metabolizing all the necessary information, also thanks to a slightly more "explanatory" start than in the past, it wasn't difficult for me to jump into the action, because in any case net of the many changes I immediately felt at home. As already mentioned in the preview phase (which I advise you to read, having dealt with many mechanics of the combat system in detail), there are several game systems that have seen a substantial revision, requiring me a fair period of recalibration of the phalanxes.
Although initially it seemed strange to pass from the control of a single, very powerful and versatile avatar, to the management of summons and transformations, the extraordinary spectacularization of the situations - contextualized in an excellent way - transported me with all shoes into the new world, making me forget any initial uncertainty.
In short I realized that Bayonetta 3 is anything but a cautious sequel, respectful of his past but willing to put on the plate all the good that could be born from the team, mainly on a creative level. The main thrust is linked to the introduction of the summoning of demons, which enters the field with our heroine they mess up the times, dynamics and spaces of a well-tested game system.
The result is much larger and wider game scenarios, in which you can unleash the powerful creatures without ending up as cramped as in a sardine can. This choice is crucial, as once called into question Gomorrah, Madama Butterfly and the other demons, our task is to guide their attacks but at the same time prevent them from taking too much damage, while preserving the health of a Bayonetta engaged in the dance necessary to keep the creatures under control.
Bizarre, it's true: thinking of an action game of this caliber, such somewhat crude design choices led me to think that the team wanted to take a more “gimmicky” turn, going to decrease in reflexes, precision and memorization of the combos to instead favor situational gameplay, in which to blow up enemies with a skilful use of summons.
Impossible not to think of the lack of the double weapon, which in the previous chapters led to the execution of long, elaborate and spectacular attack sequences to the point of taking your breath away, as something we have been unjustly deprived of, another piece that confirms the will (perhaps?) to create a more casual product.
Power is nothing without control
But what makes the difference between a structured game mechanic and a real gimmick is proper is how effectively the player can manage the options available to him without feeling forced or limited. After the tutorial, it seemed almost clear to me that I would only find myself exploiting the ferocious creatures in certain contexts, but instead, as the internships progressed, I began to recognize and appreciate a certain flexibility.
Using one's magical power (the same with which the torturing attacks were performed in the previous chapters) it is in fact possible to call the monsters to remain on the ground until this is completely consumed, but also to opt for a more sparing "one shot attack". – one might say – to take advantage of the area damage of their appearance or chain them into a powerful combo.
I found it very funny being able to choose on the fly which was the best option available to me, taking into account which and how many enemies you had to face to unleash Gomorrah against the more massive ones equipped with a shield (which Bayonetta alone struggles to break down) and instead trying to make the most of the mobility and Temporal Sabbath against the fastest and most dangerous humanoids.
But you can also completely overturn the expectations due to match-ups, creating a challenge within a challenge so as not to trivialize the gameplay. And despite the removal of the second weapon, the arsenal available to Bayonetta is suitable for every need thanks to its extreme diversification: yo-yo blades that become roller skates, hammers that are also a rifle, fans that work as double blades or microphones to be used as a magician's stirrup. There really is everything we are talking about less than half of what is actually made available to the player.
The variety is the master in this chapter thanks to the other novelty introduced, or the Demonic Mimesis: Bayonetta can in fact impersonate in humanoid form (or almost) the demons that permeate her weapons with their essence. These transformations, which are activated with specific actions such as the double tap on the ZR or the management of the glide after a jump, may seem not too decisive on the surface, but they represent a consistent design departure from their predecessors.
I'm not just talking about combat, but also about exploration: the new abilities granted to the witch by the Demonic Mimesis allow her to increase speed, climb, fly, cover long distances in speed, becoming crucial for collecting collectibles, solving environmental puzzles or the discovery of secret areas, especially when we go back to exploring previously played levels to complete them. But even just on a show level, which can be said when Bayonetta it literally turns into a train or in a fish woman who hops and blows bubbles?
A very specific example in this perspective can be found in the collection of tears of Umbra, entrust now in each level to a Crow, for an cat it's a toad. The first is to be caught by identifying its flight trajectory and intercepting it at the right moment, the second must be outsmarted by closing its escape routes or sensing its changes of direction, while the third must be found by recognizing its croaking and then revealing in which ravine may have hidden.
It's all about challenges more complex than one might think, which led me to change the sets of weapons available to use their specific skills – also taking into account the conformation of the playing area. And trust me, besides being a matter of principle for many completionists, capturing the three familiars is essential to unlock the "Phenomenal Vestiges", or extra chapters that will challenge you with specific challenges with time and skill limits.
We dance and fight, yesterday as today
Once you've learned all the systems, it's time to enjoy the slaughter of all the new enemies that will face us in the adventure. Having put aside angels and demons (although not completely, just look carefully…) has led the team to create an exaggerated number of opponents, starting from the more traditional archetypes to vary with the imagination.
Melee combat, archers, flying enemies, behemoths, creatures capable of splitting if defeated, powerful spear-wielding knights… at one point I wondered when the new enemies would end, because in each chapter they always appeared 2-3 never seen. And as the game continues, variants also appear, significantly increasing the total number.
The only note I would address to changes made to audiovisual feedback during combat: in Bayonetta 1 (especially) and 2 the precision with which the audio screech and the flash of light announced enemy shots was crucial to effectively manage chaotic situations, allowing you to rely on the overview while keeping your enemies alert senses.
In Bayonetta 3 enemies don't offer signs of their blows consistently, at least not all of them, and I found myself dancing gracefully and precisely between the blows of some opponents and then finding myself a spear in the back without almost realizing it. A supporter of the "readability" of situations at the first opportunity like me he felt a little betrayed, but that's nothing that a little practice and knowledge of enemy ranks can't fix.
Different speech instead for the bosses, probably among the best of the trilogy in terms of camera management, specific mechanics and the player's ability to inflict damage. In the first chapter, many representatives of the angelic ranks transported us to very confusing arenas, hiding access to weak points behind frustrating situations, in which it was necessary to actually understand how to activate certain contextual scene changes.
In Bayonetta 2 things had improved, but often we resorted to fighting in flight for specific clashes, creating very awkward moments of perception of distances that forced the use of the Umbran Climax to be sure of hitting and doing damage adequately .
The third episode it experiences the past and evolves it beyond all expectations, offering challenging and satisfying fights that use the arenas wisely and are often seasoned with specific mechanics related to the powers of the demons to be summoned. I struggled to hold back the (smug) laughter as I conjured a huge singing frog which, lining up verse after verse, generated a cloud of acid rain essential for breaking down the enemy defenses.
A bit like it happens in adventure games or platformers, PlatinumGames offers new tools from time to time and tests the player to use them properly, then suddenly changing register to offer truly unexpected and at times hilarious gameplay reversals. I don't want to go into detail, but know that there are many memorable situations in which the summoned demons become real protagonists.
Turn up the volume, it's Viola time!
Of course we also have to talk about Viola, the noisy and capricious rocker who forcefully enters the series taking – on balance – more space than Jeanne has had so far. It does so by proposing an alternative to Bayonetta's gameplay, favoring parries rather than dodging them at the last moment, and going to scale down the monster summoning system, limited only to the funny and chubby Cheshire.
Despite the difference in experience, Viola seemed to me at times devastating and potentially even more lethal than the Umbra witch if entrusted to skilled hands. Cheshire is very powerful and can be sent into battle while maintaining control of the summoner, which he uses punches and kicks to keep the enemy under pressure.
The presence of the young it is a golden opportunity to be able to insert a growth path into the narrative and offer an alternative side to the now proven model of the powerful, self-aware and irreverent hero. Viola is a long way from Bayonetta, but tries in every way to prove his worth to gain credibility and support in his desperate mission.
While in need of help, she is reluctant to share all the details of her experience with Bayonetta, Jeann and Rodin, allowing us to fantasize about her past and why she has powers similar to the witches of Umbra. Her path is intriguing and sympathetic in tone, but she soon becomes her pivotal to important plot developments, which will catch many players off guard.
The constant desire to amaze also shines through in the levels dedicated to Jeanne, which offer a modern reinterpretation of classics such as Elevator Action, with that touch of over the top madness that kept me glued to the screen despite the obvious gameplay change. Between stealth, superpowers, collectibles and shower scenes (I'm not kidding) these extra chapters represent a nice interlude to be able to experience the events complementary to the main plot in first person.
Overall, therefore, we have gameplay variations, a disproportionate number of enemy types, more characters to control, boss fights that often change perspective, collectibles, secret levels... what's missing? One would say nothing, but in reality something is not working there is: history.
A shaky story, told with fireworks
I'm the first to want to mention that in a certain genre of titles the story is an absolutely secondary element of the experience and the first two chapters of Bayonetta are masters in creating fascinating contexts but full of situations in which the viewer is forced to play along, without asking too many questions, to better appreciate everything.
In this third episode PlatinumGames has fully embraced its philosophy of creating the single moment of gameplay first, which aims to be as spectacular as possible, to then build around a context that can best connect all the elements involved.
The result is a somewhat bumpy progression, guided by artificially arbitrary goals (such as having to recover a specific number of Components of Chaos when there are potentially infinite ones) and rather phoned tweetst plots, which do not hit as much as they should due to the total lack of previous elements that can properly support them. Not to mention that the threat of the Homunculus is built in an almost tasteless and shaky way, despite the great potential.
This uncertainty is also reflected in using the multiverse almost as a creative escape, introducing very little new into the original world to instead rely on almost fanfiction situations which – although always pretty and endowed with the right charisma – do not offer the same impact that the journey to discover Cereza's memories or having visited the hell to free Jeanne while the reasons for Balder's actions are revealed.
The impression this series of choices gave me is that the Bayonetta 3 project has actually experienced a troubled development, passing by the creative table time and time again and trudging through the lead changes between Hashimoto and Miyata. If we add the pandemic and the team's difficulties with other projects unrelated to Nintendo, it is not so absurd to think that Bayonetta 3 is a product packaged in at least a "frantic" way.
Yet, despite this, I lived this journey with great involvement: I laughed, I was excited and at times even moved, in an adventure that could certainly be improved in terms of structure and narration, which howeverreally represents the best that is in the strings of the developers as regards the digital transposition of the concept of entertainment.
What if Bayonetta 3 was the right choice?
It was easy to get carried away also thanks to the extreme care that the team put into shaping the technique of the game, managing to create an ideal theater for the most bizarre fantasies between apocalyptic films and Kaiju battles. The prologue alone is a strong slap in the face to all the detractors of Nintendo Switch and the capabilities of PlatinumGames, offering settings that continuously vary in scale, passing from restricted areas to drumming on-rail sections in which devastation reigns, all surrounded by atmospheric events overwhelming – potentially even for the hardware.
Yet everything works in a practically perfect way, net of a few frames lost when the effects are shot too close to the camera, properly supporting each gameplay situation without the player suffering from loss of control or reduction of clarity of what is happening on the screen. In action games of this type, a necessity.
When the technique best supports the artistic direction, then it totally happened: not only is the representation of the protagonists and demons effective both in the game and in the cutscenes, but it is also able to switch to totally different contexts and settings without firing a shot. Get ready to get to know the many faces of Bayonetta and wonder how nice it would be to be able to explore the facets of these characters created only as supporting characters in more depth.
I would also like to applaud the entire cast of voice actors for their ability to convey charisma, emotion and conflict, taking advantage of the context to elevate the iconic characters of the franchise. In light of the recent controversy surrounding the failed reappointment of Hellena Taylor as the original voice of the witch of Umbra, it should be emphasized that Jennifer Hale, his heir, manages to not miss the adorable posh style of the previous chapters, offering an absolutely competent and faithful interpretation.
Only one last aspect of production remains to be dealt with, that is the value of the same for the most loyal public. Flying over the narrative aspect, already addressed, I can only confirm the impressions of the preview phase, reporting a significantly easier title than the previous ones if faced on normal difficulty (and very concessional in the use of objects, in terms of final evaluation) and decidedly less "pure" as a character action game.
Bayonetta 3 aims at a wider audience and does so by introducing many moments that could alienate purists, but still offers an adequate challenge due to the severity of some tests and the presence of game modes aimed at perfecting one's skills. As a complete package, gameplay-wise, the weak points seem to me few and in any case contextualizable, but the change of register is evident and must be taken into account.